MESQUITE – The Sulphur Springs kicking game made Wildcat fans hold their breath at times Friday night. But, in the end, the SSHS special teams gave the fans something to shout about.
It was the right foot of junior kicker Fernando Arellano that provided the winning margin in the Wildcats’ 33-31 victory over upstart Frisco Liberty in the Class 4A, Region II semifinals at Memorial Stadium.
Arellano, who kicked two field goals in the game to increase his school record to 11 this season, made the last one count as he drilled it from 18 yards out with 91 seconds left in the contest.
The field goal erased a couple of miscues in the kicking game earlier in the contest. Arellano had a 30-yard field goal attempt blocked as well as an extra point attempt. The Wildcats also failed to recover a pooch kick and allowed two kickoff returns of more than 35 yards.
But, when it mattered most, Mason Y’Barbo gave a perfect snap to holder Garrett Ferguson, who set it for Arellano’s winning kick, and the crowd – and they say – went wild.
On the positive side, two of Arellano’s kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks, and punter Sharard Timmons booted a 36-yard punt that was not returned.
PLENTY OF PLAYS – In the first quarter, Sulphur Springs ran 27 offensive plays, compared to just three for Liberty, but the score was tied at 7-7. The Wildcats scored two plays into the second period to take a 14-7 advantage. … The Redhawks threw more than twice as much as they ran the ball. They attempted 50 passes, while rushing 23 times. ... Both teams ran 73 plays from scrimmage, with SSHS averaging almost a yard-and-a-half more per play (6.0 yards per play for SSHS, 4.6 for Liberty). … Liberty QB Brandon Brotzman completed just four of his final 14 pass attempts.
SACK MASTER – The Wildcat defense registered just one quarterback sack in the first half, but managed to get four by the end of the game. None were bigger than senior Kedrick Dial’s sack of Brotzman with less than a minute left, forcing a third-and-17 situation, which the Redhawks could not convert. … On Liberty’s final play of the game, fourth-and-17, they picked up 14 yards, but Tyler Higginibotham, Bryant Jackson and Erick Simmons teamed up to tackle the Liberty receiver short of the first down. … Sophomore Erick Simmons also had a key sack on third down early in the fourth quarter that forced Liberty to attempt a punt. But, punter Malcolm Hill went down on one knee to catch the low snap, and was whistled down at the 5-yard line. The Wildcats converted the field position into a field goal.
BREAK IT UP – The Wildcat defense broke up five passes – two by Jackson and one each by Timmons, Joe Scott, LeMarcus Kendricks and Triston Crook. … Scott, Higginbotham and Timmons led the team in tackles. … Liberty fumbled once, but recovered it. … The Wildcats’ longest run of the game came from center Colby Suggs, who rambled 36 yards on a third-and-1 play in the first quarter. … For the second consecutive game, the Wildcats had a touchdown pass called back for holding, then struck for a TD on the very next play. Both times, the TD was a connection between Colton Lee and Bryant Jackson. … The pair connected on two TD passes for the third consecutive game.
WINDY CITY – The teams played into a strong wind out of the south, and ironically, all three of Liberty’s offensive TDs came while they were heading into the wind. SSHS scored one into the wind and three with the wind. … Liberty came into the game boasting a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, but the Wildcat defense limited Jay Ayaji to 21 yards on six carries and Malcolm Hill to 29 yards on four carries. … This is the fifth time in SSHS history that the Wildcats have made it to the regional finals, which will be next week. Sulphur Springs will play the winner between Marshall and Denison. The two teams are scheduled to kickoff at 2 p.m. today at Mesquite Hanby Stadium. … The Wildcats lost the turnover battle 3-1, with safety Tylan Harris picking off a pass to account for the SSHS take-away.
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